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Full text of "A story about a real man"

A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        287
Then Alexei opened the letter from his mother. It was
the chatty epistle that old mothers usually write, full of
anxiety and concern for him: how was he faring, was he
not cold, was he getting enough food, did he receive warm
winter clothes, and should she knit him a pair of mittens?
She had already knitted five pairs and had sent them as
gifts to the men of the Soviet Army. And in the thumb
of each pair she had put a note saying: "I hope they bring
you luck." She hoped he had received a pair of those
mittens! They were very nice, warm mittens, knitted from
wool that she had combed from the down of her rabbits.
Yes, she had forgotten to mention that she had a family
of rabbits now—a buck, a doe and seven little ones. Only
at the end of the letter, after all this affectionate, old
motherly chatter, did she write about the most important
thing: the Germans had been driven away from Stalin-
grad, lots and lots of them were killed there, and people
even said that one of their big generals was taken pris-
oner. Well, and when they were driven away, Olya
came to Kamyshin on five days' leave. She had stayed
at her house, as Olya's house had been wrecked by a
bomb. She was now in a sappers' battalion and was a
lieutenant. She had been wounded in the shoulder, but
she had recovered now and had been awarded a decora-
tion—what kind of decoration, the old lady, of course,
did not think of saying. She added that while staying at
her house, Olya slept all the time, and when she was not
asleep she talked about him; and they told fortunes with
cards, and every time the queen of diamonds came out
on top of the king of clubs. Alexei surely knew what that
meant! So far as she was concerned, she wrote, she could
not wish for a better daughter-in-law than that same
queen of diamonds.
Alexei smiled at the old lady's artless diplomacy and
carefully opened the grey envelope containing the letter
from the "queen of diamonds". It was not a long letter.
Olya wrote that after digging the "trenches", the best
members of her labour battalion were drafted into a sap-
pers' unit of the regular army. She now had the rank of
lieutenant-technician. It was her unit that had, under
enemy fire, built the fortifications at Mamayev Kurgan
that is now so famous, and also the ring of fortifications